I have been staring at this blank page for hours, unsure of how to begin. My brain is not able to put this into some order that makes sense, so I am just going to give you info as it pops into my thoughts.
- We had to postpone Doug’s endoscopy because Doug was having dizzy spells and falling over when standing. He was also falling off furniture (in a world where he had never fallen off furniture before; it is why I bought the new couch). Also, when he shakes his head, his eyes started rolling back into his head and I was able to catch it on video. Our regular vet felt we needed to see the neurologist over having the scope done.
- The neurologist confirmed that Doug had deficits. I went in thinking it was likely inner ear. They put that pretty low on the list of things they thought it was. She was very clear that she thought it was serious. Four of the five things she thought it could be (brain tumor, malformed brainstem/spinal cord connection, too much spinal fluid or a brain that was too large for his skull), would be able to be seen on two different MRIs and a spinal tap. We had fasted that day just in case, and none of those test are new to me. Melvin had one MRI and spinal tap; Jake had two. At no point during this conversation did I flinch. We would figure it out.
- She then told me that there was one other thing it could be. A brain disease where the brain stops controlling the dogs body. The first sings are unsteadiness, stumbling, dizziness, uncoordinated eye movements. She said, it was the worst possible diagnosis since it was 100% fatal. All the air left the room. What about it just being an inner ear issue?! She said there was a genetic blood test that took 2-4 weeks to get back. If the test came back positive, we would not need to do the MRI or Spinal Tap. I agreed to have the test to rule it out.
- I waited 26 days for the results. Everyday, watching Doug not getting better on antibiotics and accepting the fact, it was not an inner ear issue.
When Melvin died a month after his 10th birthday, I was heartbroken in a million different ways, one of which was that I would never know old-man-Melvin. When Doug came, I knew the universe was giving me a dog I would have the longest and that even though Melvin didn’t grow old with me, I would get to see what Grandpa Doug was all about. When Jake died, I knew that I would likely never care for a living creature to the extent that I did with him. And that, it was unlikely another of my dogs would go through as much as Jake did. Jake would always be my baby. I also assumed that my heartache with the dogs, had reached a lifetime max.
I was wrong, about a lot of things.
Doug has a fatal, neurodegenerative disease called Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscionosis (NCL). It turns out I won’t get to know Grandpa Doug after all, the weight of even typing that, suffocates me.
I got the results yesterday.
- Heartache is the bulk of what I feel. Not just the realization that I will lose Doug, but much more so the fact that Doug won’t have the opportunity to be showered with love for many more years to come.
- This disease is very rare. Mostly because breeders test for the mutation before breeding since it is so terrible. I feel actual rage that Doug was likely born to some backyard breeder that didn’t give a shit.
- It being rare leaves me with a ton of unanswered questions. The symptoms are breed specific and there has not been enough Am Staffs reported to have it for me to have much insight into what to expect and when. The neurologist office has seen one other case, our vet has never seen it.
- Every dog, regardless of breed is different. Some dogs decline more slowly, some decline rapidly. Right now, we are throwing out about a year. Give or take, whatever terrible version of math that is.
- All I really know is that it usually strikes Am Staff’s between ages 3-5. Doug is 4. Doug’s brain has already started communicating less with his body, and that will continue. I don’t even know when it started because his hind leg issues have always made him clumsy. He might go blind, he might not. He might not recognize things that should be familiar. It might be painful, it might not cause any pain. Some dogs have seizures. Obviously he is going to be confused as to what is happening to him. The given is that, eventually, his brain will cut ties with his body and mobility. So sometime between today and the day before joy no longer reigns supreme, I will have to say goodbye to my boy.
I will find a way for Doug and I to make a difference. I already plan to write down every symptom, every day. I will take video of his decline. One day, we can help someone else as they journey towards this horrible fate; they will at least have one person who says ‘I understand and here is what I know’. This is one of a million ways that Doug love, will live on. If any of you know any dogs who have had this, especially if they are an Am Staff, PLEASE let me know.
The other way he and I will make a difference, is that we will continue to find the joy in every day we have left together.
There are a few things giving me strength. My family and friends. Melvin, as always, is with me. And I know that when Doug is no longer here, Melvin will be there with him. And Jakie too. When I heard the results, the first thing that I realized was, I don’t have to change a thing to give Doug a beautiful forever. Live a life where if you find out someone is dying, you can rest easier knowing, you are already giving them the very best of who you are.
Lastly, and way more importantly, life is not meant to be measured in length. A long life is never the given. Instead, it is to be measured in width and depth. Doug’s life is infinitely wide and wildly full of joy, and I will never allow for anything but that for him.